I climb the wall of the refinery grounds so I don't have to go through the gate. The guards would let me in; they always do. But I'd rather not leave witnesses to my visit this trip. I enter the building with Bolin's workshop by the back door. No one is in the hall. A bit of luck for a change. I creep up to the door, which is slightly ajar. The faint crackle of the forge fire is the only sound coming from the room. I unsheathe my weapons and enter quietly, closing the door behind me.
Bolin is a few feet in front of me. Lying on the floor next to his worktable, in a puddle of his own blood. His head is turned away from me. But even though I can't see his face, I know he's dead. No one, not even a dwarf, can lose that much blood and remain alive.
I should be glad he's dead. But I'm angry. I wanted to kill him myself. Someone robbed me of my revenge. But who? and why?
I move around the puddle of blood, careful not to get any on my boots. Though it probably doesn't matter too much, since I am already covered in the dead apprentice's blood. When I get to the other side of the dwarf's body, I can see how he died.
Someone shoved a blade up through the underside of Bolin's chin, under his beard. The tip of the blade protrudes out his left eye. Underneath the drying blood his face still looks surprised.
His stupid dwarven face, all thick lines and broad curves like a bad clay sculpture painted in rust, makes me even angrier. I'd like to smash it til the skull shatters. Maybe that will make me feel better about not being the one to kill him.
"You son of a rat," I whisper. "Why? Why would you do this? Was all this naiveté, all that belief in the goodness of dwarves and the rest of us a lie? How could you express such outrage at the torture and dismemberment of Norien and then kill the street rats yourself while I was sitting right there?"
I touch my side where he healed my broken bones earlier. Even the dull ache is gone now. I don't get it.
"You're a healer. You're supposed to care about people."
He had to be the best dwarven actor ever. Or maybe he became possessed, controlled by external evil. I heard dwarves were pretty resistant to that sort of thing, though. It's more likely that he was somehow sucked into this escape plot and came to believe that the death of a few was necessary for the good of the whole. That the end justifies the means. That sounds more like Bolin with his ideals and blind faith. The kind of slide into the pit of evil a zealot might make.
I hate true believers. Maybe because I believe in nothing.
"I was just starting to trust you," I tell him.
Bolin's spiritless eyes stare through me.
Apparently, I am not too good at judging character. I remember the bartender at the Bouncy Tart telling me that Calmorien was a nice, harmless old elf. Maybe none of us are.
"So, who killed you?"
I take a closer look at the murder weapon. I don't like what I see. Though most of the blade is embedded in the dwarf's thick head, I can tell from the hilt and the curve of the blade that the weapon is a sickle. Strange. Sickles are not a common weapon here in Elftown. I wonder who else uses one. As far as I know, I am the only one.
Bolin was killed with my signature weapon using one of my execution styles.
As the implication of the manner of the dwarf's death sinks in, the door bursts open.
"Bolin, you're wanted," the messenger boy announces as he opens the door. "Jet says it can't wait-"
He stops in shock as he sees the dead dwarf. And me. His eyes take in the blood pool and my bloody tunic, and then shift rapidly back and forth between Bolin's corpse and my face several times.
"Goddess, Arq," he whispers. "You killed Bolin."
The realization of how perfectly I've been framed stabs into me like a treacherous venom-soaked blade in my back. I rise slowly.
"Why did you kill him?" Triel interrupts, voice rising. "He was important to Jet. He was a big deal. And Jet needs him right now!" His eyes widen with anger and satisfaction. "Jet's gonna kill you for this! You're a dead elf!"
Goddess, I hate this punk.
He sees my anger. And his snotty little feeling of triumph turns to fear. I step around Bolin and move toward him. He begins to back up. I pull out my sickle.
"Oh, shit," he says, turning toward the door to run.
As an enforcer for Jet, a petty elven crime boss, Arq has it better than most in Elftown, the prisoner of war slum of a human city. It's violent work, but it provides him with a little more money than he needs to survive, a little status, and a little free time.
When a prostitute under Jet's protection is brutally murdered, Jet sends Arq and a team of enforcers - including his creepy, ambitious rival; Jet's dangerously alluring girlfriend; and a chatty dwarf-of-all-trades - to find the killer and make an example of him. But when they uncover the dark reason for the murder, the delicate balance of power in Elftown begins to crumble.
To avenge a friend's murder, Arq must contend with betrayal, warring crime bosses, deadly monsters, underworld plots, and forbidden magic that, if discovered by the humans, will send a red tide of death through Elftown. His greatest challenges, though, will be grappling with his own bitter, violent nature, and trying to figure out what it means to be an elf in a place where the humans have taken away everything that makes life worth living for elvenkind.
Author: A. Harris Lanning
Cover Art: Xavier Ward